Gamecocks edge Mississippi State to take another step closer to NCAAs
COLUMBIA — When the final horn sounded, there was no jubilation. Only relief.
Over scraping by in a victory over one of the worst teams in the SEC.
Over doing perhaps just enough to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 seasons.
Whether the latter becomes reality, Selection Sunday will tell. But the Gamecocks certainly managed the former, getting 22 from SEC Player of the Year candidate Sindarius Thornwell and 15 from Chris Silva to defeat Mississippi State 63-57 on Tuesday night at Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks (22-8, 12-5 SEC) are guaranteed of their most conference wins in a single season since 1997, when they won 15 en route to their only SEC crown. With an RPI of 29 and now a double-bye into the quarterfinals of next week’s SEC Tournament, they’re also very close to their first NCAA bid since 2004.
Mario Kegler scored 12 to lead Mississippi State (14-15, 5-12), which played without leading scorer Quinndary Weatherspoon due to an ankle injury, and lost its seventh straight game.
South Carolina led by as many as 10 in the second half, but went 5:30 scoreless while Mississippi State crawled back into it. Tyson Carter drained a 3 with 4:29 left to tie the game, and the nervousness over what was at stake was evident both on the floor and in the crowd.
But South Carolina’s defense held fast down the stretch, allowing the Bulldogs to make just one of their final 10 attempts from the floor. A 3-pointer by Duane Notice and a Thornwell leaner gave the Gamecocks some breathing room, and South Carolina made just enough free throws down the stretch to seal it.